Beholding the Beauty of the God Who Became Man
With the arrival of the Christmas season (glory hallelujah, deck the halls and let the jingle bells rock!), our world is now filled with the smell of peppermint, Hallmark movies, hot cocoa, and a probably not-so-white Christmas (hello, Texas).
As Christians, our celebrations will ultimately center on Advent – the first coming of Immanuel, God with Us, the Messiah, Christ the Lord.
Christians place their everlasting hope in the God-Man; the Second Person of the Trinity who, while maintaining His deity, took on flesh, dwelt among us, and became like man in all things except for sin. This phenomenon known as the Incarnation is this ultimate act of humility – God taking on flesh to save the world. The Incarnation of Jesus the Christ, wherein He took on human flesh, demonstrates God’s tremendous love and the lengths to which He went to reconcile humanity to Himself.The Incarnation and the ensuing death, burial, and resurrection, of Christ is radical and astounding. But it is also beautiful in light of God’s nature. Recognizing this beauty is a centuries-old tradition of understanding the Incarnation, one that dates back to Medieval times. The aesthetic or beautiful nature of God’s redemption plan can cause our hearts to appreciate and praise God on an even deeper level: His salvation is not only real and true; it is also beautiful and fitting.
To our modern sensibilities, it sounds strange to speak of the aesthetic value of God’s redemption plan. How can our theology be considered beautiful? But for great thinkers of the past, the beauty of the Incarnation made it all the more intelligent and convincing. Medieval theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, skillfully explained it this way in his classic work, Cur Deus Homo [meaning, Why God Became A Man]:
“Since humanity sinned through pleasure, is it not fitting for humanity to make recompense through pain…and is it not appropriate that humanity, which in sinning took itself away from God as much as possible, should in making recompense give itself to God as much as possible?” (Cur Deus Homo, 2.11)
Christians gladly confess that God’s redemption plan was not necessary for Him, but a pure act of grace for us. God did not need to save fallen and depraved man from eternal punishment. Yet what would that have looked like? Millions upon millions of sinners, punished for eternity.
Anselm argues that this would not have been a fitting reality for our Creator God because of how good and beautiful He is. It is only fitting that he should bring to completion what he began in Creation – for at least some men to attain happiness, in the fullest and most robust sense.
This happiness can only be found in relationship to God, therefore it could only be accomplished through redemption, or payment for man’s sin (CDH 1.25, 2.4). What beauty there is in God’s gracious provision to save, when he could have allowed all of us to perish! When we reflect on God’s nature, we see how wonderful this salvation is – he is good, gracious, just. Is it not fitting that such a good God He would extend His arm to save?
But did God the Son have to come and to die? Could it not have been merely a perfect human? Anselm answers “no.” For humans in the “first man,” Adam, owe a debt of justice (sinlessness/righteousness) to God. No man created outside the line of Adam could rightly pay the debt, and no man within the line of Adam is perfectly just to pay the debt. Only a Redeemer who was both fully man, but not sinful like man, could redeem us.
Therefore, the Savior must be God – for as God he would not owe the debt man owed. But it is also only fitting that he should be man. For if he were not man, he could not rightly pay the price that man owed. The paradoxical truth that our Savior is both wholly God and wholly man answer the demand of God’s justice.
Our great God, all-powerful, took on weak flesh. Yet in this weakness, he maintained every ounce of his deity. Though difficult to comprehend, does this truth not draw out of your heart praise for the beauty of this great Mystery?
And because we know that Christ did indeed make the payment for our sin – those who believe have our debts paid and are reconciled with the Father. Because of the God-Man, and the fitting plan of redemption, the Father offers to us his only begotten Son as the righteous requirement to redeem us from the debt we owed Him. “And what is more just than for one who is paid a price greater than every debt to cancel every debt, if the price is paid with the proper affection?” (CDH 2.20)
As the Christmas season approaches and you think upon the coming of our sweet, powerful, majestic, and humble Lord, I pray that the radical nature of his love and salvation is on the forefront of your thoughts. But not far behind that, I hope you dwell in the beauty of that plan…that God, in His goodness, redeemed man to the fullest extent in His Son–giving us the opportunity to be complete in Him, to become partakers of the divine nature, and to live with him forever.